Shooting a live performance is similar to playing golf in the dark. No matter how many times you do it, no matter how good you think you are getting, there’s always a surprise in store. And usually, that surprise will trip you up.
So imagine my surprise — shock, really — to be sitting at the Sprenger Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C., last weekend. The surprise was not that it was a difficult shoot, but instead how easy it was.
Students from the Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble (MYTE), Impulse Jazz Dance Company and Metropolitan Youth Ballet (MYB) performed Saturday afternoon at the theater in “Anybody Can Get It,” a 60-minute showcase that was part of the Intersections Art Festival.
It was a dance-filled weekend for Metropolitan School of the Arts’ three resident dance companies, and — because Ben and Emma are involved in two of the three — I had a chance to take pictures of their work.
I had never been to the Atlas, which is on H Street Northeast. The theater was built in the late 1930s and showed first-run films until the 1950s and early ‘60s, then closed after the 1968 riots in the city destroyed many buildings and the area became downtrodden. It was restored a decade ago and is now a fantastic performing arts facility.
That was evident as soon as the MSA students started performing and I started shooting pictures. The lighting and shadows not only captured the dancers in action, but also illuminated them in a way that I could capture with my camera.
I’ve taken pictures of my kids’ performances — and other performers as well, both professional and local — for as long as I can remember. Like the best golfers, I have good rounds and bad ones.
Several things make shooting these performances a challenge. First is that it’s live — no retakes or do overs — so you have to be on your toes and able to anticipate what is happening. Second, most of the time you are shooting in a cave, and it is difficult to get your shutter speed high enough to completely stop action. Third, because the performers are moving so fast, a flash does you no good. (And besides, flash is prohibited in most cases because it can distract the performers.)
I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and because I’ve shot so much over the past year, my photos seem to be getting better. Or at least I think they are.
In addition to the tap, jazz, and contemporary ballet performances by the three companies, several students also performed solos at the event. In addition to the photos here, you can see more by clicking the link to my Facebook page.
Later that evening, Impulse and MYTE students performed at the 28th Annual Jazz and Tap Festival at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus. For photos from that event, look to the entry below and for the “Jazz and Tap Festival” album on my Facebook page.
Prejudices aside, I’m continually impressed by the quality of talent that we see at MSA. The kids who are part of these companies — most are in high school, although some are in the middle grades — are extremely dedicated to their craft and work constantly to improve. They are their own harshest critics and each other’s biggest supporters.
That’s not to say everything is perfect; nothing in live performance is. But watching these kids over a sustained period of time — 10 years in our case with Metropolitan — you see steady and at times startling improvement from year to year, even show to show.
I hope you are seeing some improvements in my pictures as well.